The nation’s new secretary of Housing and Urban Development returned to his hometown Wednesday and paid a visit to a small audience of students and parents at the Detroit school named for him — the Dr. Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine.
The stop was Carson’s first stop on a three-day visit to Detroit billed as the launch of a “national listening tour” to let him “hear directly from key stakeholders who rely on and support public housing.”
While Carson’s boss, President Donald Trump, drew crowds of auto workers Wednesday for his visit to Ypsilanti, the HUD secretary spoke to only about 90 students and their parents at the specialized high school near the Detroit Medical Center — the former Crockett Vocational/Tech Center, renamed for Carson in 2011. Carson spoke of the need to find new ways to provide secure housing to low-income Americans.
“It’s not just a matter of putting a roof over people’s heads,” he said. The social problems in many public-housing projects call for far-reaching solutions that include providing job training for prison inmates, then a clear path to employment “when they come out,” he said.
Carson recalled growing up poor with a single mother in a neighborhood of “these little GI houses with 750 square feet” on Deacon Street in southwest Detroit.
“And people took meticulous care of those homes and their yards. Why? Because it was theirs. I’m a big believer of people having skin in the game” — that is, ownership of their homes, he said. HUD needs to develop programs that enable public-housing residents “to progressively move toward ownership” of their units, Carson said.
It was Carson’s first major appearance outside Washington since being confirmed as the head of the federal housing department March 3. He told the crowd he’d been impressed by Detroit’s budding economic revival and that its public-housing stock should match the standards of other aspects of the city’s comeback.
“I think Detroit is going to become a crown jewel” in HUD’s network of affordable housing programs, he said.
Carson took about half a dozen questions from students, although none from reporters, before ending the program and mixing with the admiring students and their parents.
Carson is expected to visit public housing projects Friday with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who was at Wednesday’s event.
After Carson’s visit, Duggan said that Detroit has “had a strong relationship with HUD” and he expected it to continue. Duggan said Carson was particularly impressed with projects that blend federal funding with larger amounts of private investment.
“He seems very open to learning this new job,” Duggan said.
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